Despite NSW and Queensland rugby union governing bodies announcing July return dates for professional and community competitions, the Tumut Bulls and Bullettes look no closer to taking to the field in 2020.
Southern Inland Rugby Union, who are governed by the Canberra-based Brumbies, will not be committing to any official return dates, and will instead follow the Federal Government and Australian Institute of Sport’s three-staged approach to the recommencement of community sport.
SIRU Competitions and Rugby Services manager Jack Heffernan backed the Brumbies stance, suggesting that a July return wasn’t set in stone for any sport.
“Rugby Australia have said that they will leave it to individual states to look after their competitions and Brumbies Country have taken a stance of waiting it out and seeing what comes of everything,” Heffernan said.
“We have been a little more conservative in our approach compared to other sports and rugby competitions, and instead we are working off the current information instead of jumping the gun with announcements.”
Heffernan said that he envisioned clubs would be able to return to training very soon, with the Federal Government expected to announce that groups of 10 people can play and train, without physical contact.
“It is pretty encouraging to see what the government is saying and even if we can get some people training back in groups of 10 or less, working on ball skills and fitness, that is a start,” Heffernan said.
As far as a resumption of the SIRU competition, the board will need to consider Rugby Australia’s requirement for a mandatory pre-season training period.
“Rugby Australia is pushing for a mandatory preseason but we reminded them that we have players who only train once a week” Heffernan said.
“We understand this is country rugby but at the moment, we are looking at three to four weeks of training before a season would commence, giving every club and player a chance to return to competition safely.”
SIRU has been open with clubs throughout the process and are considering different competition options if a season can commence, with a one-round season looking most likely.
“There are calendars with clubs at the moment showing what a variety of competitions could look like,” Heffernan said.
“It is looking more likely that every team would play each other once in the senior space, we are currently sitting at 9 teams, which is eight games with one bye and four home games and for away games.”
Depending on player availability, there is a slight possibility of third grade being dumped for 2020 but Heffernan was confidant teams would push to cater for all grades.
“That is up the clubs, we have six teams in third grade, and depending on team numbers, we might have to talk about whether we would have a competition,” Heffernan said.
“If we had less than four teams in third grade, we would have to engage in some pretty honest conversations about whether we would have a third grade competition, or just organise scratch matches between clubs who wanted to play third grade.”
Another potential issue is the validity of a 2020 SIRU competition, with many rugby pundits suggesting that winning a shortened competition wouldn’t carry the same merit as previous years.
Heffernan disagreed with this sentiment though, and said that as long as all teams were able to play each other once, the overall winners would be worthy of lifting the trophy.
“Lot’s of clubs were training before all of this happened and I believe there would a lot of those players still training just as hard in anticipation for a return to rugby,” Heffernan said.
“I think if we get a competition going that has all teams playing each other once and we play finals, I don’t see why a premier shouldn’t be named.”
SIRU is expected to meet against next Wednesday and Thursday, and Heffernan is hoping that more government announcements could have the competition’s future looking a little clearer.
“We will meet with clubs next Wednesday and Thursday, which should work out well with the government expected to announce some changes later this week and early next week,” Heffernan said.
“Hopefully we have some positive news for everyone.”